Four Jacks and a Jill, “Master Jack” (1968): One Track Mind

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Between Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips, Arthur Brown claiming to be the God of Hellfire, Bobby Goldsboro’s lament to a deceased wife, Status Quo hallucinating pictures of matchstick men and the nursery rhyme pop rock from bands such as the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the Ohio Express, AM radio in 1968 offered a peculiar hodgepodge of styles and sentiments.

Included among the array of oddities was Four Jacks and A Jill’s “Master Jack” (RCA Victor Records), which reached No. 18 on the charts that spring.

Hailing from South Africa, the band formed in 1964 and were billed the Nevadas, then the Zombies (no relation to the British group of the same name) prior to morphing into Four Jacks and a Jill.

Guided by supernaturally airy vocals carrying a wind tunnel-like quality, “Master Jack” sports an unusual folk melody and arrangement that is both weirdly archaic and inventive, resulting in a seductively hypnotic feel enveloping the ethereal-textured song.

Not only does “Master Jack” feature a unique timbre, but Four Jacks and a Jill’s curious lyrics add an extra shot of mystique to the presentation. “It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack,” serenades lead singer Till Hannemann (aka Jill), who goes on to recall taking a colored ribbon from the sky and having Master Jack teach her to use it as the years went by. Master Jack is thanked for being so kind at the end of the song, but it’s time to move on before our narrator changes her mind.

Many theories surrounded the meaning of Four Jacks and a Jill’s spooky-sounding song. Was Master Jack a guru? A drug dealer? Was the song about politics or a love affair? In any case, “Master Jack” is a great song and definitely deserved its place in the sun.

Although Four Jacks and a Jill never repeated the international success “Master Jack” attained, they continued cutting records and were quite popular in their homeland.

On a side note, Four Jacks and a Jill were mentioned in the 1984 heavy metal comedy This Is Spinal Tap, as they were referenced as the house band at the Ramada Inn in Kansas City. Now that’s a good one!

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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